I am from a big city, Guangzhou, which is 300 times as big as Auburn. Guangzhou is such a busy city that the shopping center opens from 9 in the morning until midnight. The public transportation in Guangzhou is well-developed, and it takes less than half an hour to travel on a subway from the east to the west in Guangzhou. There is no doubt that the peaceful life in Auburn is new to a Chinese city girl. The picturesque views of the farmland and forest amaze me. I am fascinated by the night sky decorated with bright stars because my city is too bright at night to see stars.
The relationship among the neighbors in Auburn also impresses me. My host dad shovels snow for our neighbors; our neighbors help watch our house while we are gone. What’s more, I find it very common here to start a conversation with a stranger. People would chat with a random person waiting in line behind them at Wegmans! In Guangzhou, we seldom pay attention to strangers around us.
It surprises me, too, that some of my American friends have seven or eight siblings. I am the only child in my Chinese family because the family planning policy limits one child per family. Obviously, I only live with my parents and have much freedom because I don’t need to take care of little siblings.
Can you imagine how I feel living abroad for a year with foreign strangers? To be honest, it is not a piece of cake. I need to get along well with new people and accommodate to different styles of living. I cannot fall asleep at night without taking a shower, while many Americans, including my host parents, take a shower in the morning. What’s more, I don’t have dogs, but a cat in Guangzhou. However, there are two dogs in my host family. My host mom tells me that there are certain things I need to be aware of. For example, I have to throw food trash into the downstairs garbage basket, which has a top so that the dogs can not eat the trash. Sometimes, the rules in the house are like little pebbles in the way that trip me up and make me uneasy.
However, I truly love my American family. I stay with Patrick and Barbara Murphy, who take great care of me. I call them “dad” and “mom,” and they always introduce me to others as their “new Chinese daughter.” It is terrific to establish a sincere and close relationship with people you’ve never met. My mom gets up early every morning to take me to school; my dad cooks such nice food that I gain many pounds! I had an unforgettable Christmas with my host family. We excitedly opened pretty presents in the warm living room (I was deeply moved that “mom” had made me a hat, a scarf and a dance bag). At the same time, we shared the joy of welcoming a newborn baby to my host sister, Meghan. By making efforts together, strangers can magically turn into a family.
The school life in Auburn is totally different from that in China. In Guangzhou, there are more than 3,000 kids in my high school. Now I study at Tyburn Academy, which has less than 50 high school students. It is hard for me get used to its size, because I have never been to a small school before. But gradually, I find it enjoyable as well to study in a small school. It is the first time for me to know everyone in my school! I love to hear Mr. Collier, the principal, saying “good morning” to everyone in the hall way. On students’ birthdays, Tyburn puts a “happy birthday” note on their lockers. My heart was filled with warmth and joy when the teacher and students sang “Happy Birthday” to me on my birthday. It would be impossible for my enormous school in Guangzhou to care for every individual student.
Besides the size of the school, the school styles are not alike at all. The schools in China are very competitive because we have so many students but limited resources and opportunities. Students work very hard to improve their academic levels and various kinds of abilities. Although the school life is stressful, I am grateful to it because it has motivated me to achieve a higher standard, making me a better person. Schools here are more relaxing, and students spend more time on sports and hobbies. I have had many first-time experiences since I came here. I played soccer after school for two months. I had never played soccer before because in China it is more like a guys’ sport. I had a wonderful time at the homecoming dance of Tyburn in October. Since School dances are not a part of our culture, it’s not common in China. In China, school activities are mostly in the form of competitions such as a talent competition, encouraging students to thoroughly develop their abilities. But school activities here, like a movie night or a coffeehouse, are more related to having fun and hanging out with friends. It is interesting that school activities in China put achievement in the first place while school activities here consider fun very important for school life.
It has been my dream to study abroad since I was a little girl. I long to see a vaster world, which broadens my mind. Our human nature, laziness, always holds us back from jumping out of the old social circle. I feel lucky to be an exchange student, living in a new environment. Every day to me is “international,” because there are four other exchange students in my school, two from Mexico, one from Brazil and one from Germany. I learn a lot from encountering different people. The “culture shock” not only leads me to be more open minded but also teaches me to value the world in a different way.
Vicky Yang is a student from Guangzhou, China, who is presently studying at Tyburn Academy in Auburn.